It took the NHL Winter Classic 10 years to make it to New York City, so fans who turned out for the big event were not about to let a little bitterly cold weather dissuade them from taking it all in.
An hour before Monday’s game between the Rangers and Sabres, it was 15 degrees outside Citi Field and the wind-chill was minus-1, but fans flooded an interactive area in the parking lot called “The PreGame.”
The big attraction was the Stanley Cup. The line to take pictures with it doubled back on itself and appeared to be at least a couple of hundred people long.
There also were areas for shooting pucks to test accuracy, for having one’s image put on a hockey card and for taking pictures with everyone from SpongeBob to a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee cup. And there was free hot chocolate.
Did we mention it was cold? No one seemed to be in the mood to complain about that.
“It’s a memory,” said Richard Steigman of Port Washington, who attended with his son, Evan. “For better or worse, I’m here with my son, who’s 17, and I suspect if we’re lucky enough to be together many years from now it is something we will remember, and maybe less so if it was 40 degrees.”
Lou Damiano of Whitestone, Queens, said he had on so many layers of clothing that he started to perspire on the mile-long walk from his parking spot.
His outermost layer was a University of Wisconsin jacket. Damiano did not go to the school, a friend did, but he noted that is where Rangers Ryan McDonagh and Brendan Smith played.
“This is a great event,” Damiano said. “Plus, it’s a meaningful game. It’s not like an All-Star Game. The game has some meaning, some juice behind it, and all these players seem to love playing outdoors no matter what the conditions are. They grew up that way. They’re into it.”
The vast majority of fans who wore team-oriented attire were Rangers supporters, but there were plenty of Sabres fans in evidence — some of whom mounted a celebratory chant in honor of the Bills qualifying for the NFL playoffs for the first time since 1999.
There were occasional representatives of other fan bases, such as Andy Rothstein of Massapequa, and his sons Blake, 15, and Bryan, 14 — “With a ‘y,’ like Trottier,” his father said — who were wearing Islanders hats.
“It’s just a unique opportunity, and it’s just all about the game,” Andy said in explaining why Islanders fans would watch the Rangers play in the cold. “It’s really simple: It’s just a great day for hockey.”
So would they remain neutral, or root against the Rangers? “I think I may be rooting for Buffalo,” the father said. His sons nodded in agreement.